May 18, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Helen Regan, Jack Guy, Matias Grez and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022
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9:27 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

It's 3 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Russia said Wednesday that nearly 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol since Monday. It comes the day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that evacuations at the plant -- a powerful symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the otherwise Russian-occupied city -- were still ongoing.

Meanwhile, Finland and Sweden have formally handed in their applications to join NATO, the military alliance's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, in defiance of Russian warnings.

Here are the latest developments on the war in Ukraine:

  • Mariupol evacuations: Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that a total of 959 Ukrainian soldiers, including 80 wounded, had laid down their arms and surrendered since May 16. He reaffirmed that 51 wounded were sent to the hospital at Novoazovsk, which is in the self-declared region of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). CNN is unable to confirm the Russian tally. The Ukrainian President said Tuesday the negotiation process on evacuating the last soldiers from the Azovstal steel plant continues with Russia.

  • Nordic NATO bids: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that Finland and Sweden have formally handed in their applications to join the military alliance. Stoltenberg called the applications a "historic step" and said NATO is "determined" to "reach rapid conclusions."
  • First war crimes trial: A 21-year-old soldier has pleaded guilty to war crimes at a trial in Kyiv. Vadim Shishimarin appeared before the first war crimes trial since Russia invaded Ukraine back in February. He is accused of killing a 62-year-old man in Ukraine’s Sumy region, according to the country's prosecutor general's office.
  • Russian former colonel criticizes invasion: In rare public criticism of the conduct of Russia's military operations in Ukraine, a former senior Russian officer has warned on state television that the situation will get worse. Despite pushback from the show’s presenter, retired Col. Mikhail Khodarenok said Ukraine could arm 1 million people. 
  • Race for grain: The Biden administration is working closely with European allies to try to develop routes to get Ukrainian wheat and corn out of the country after Russia blocked Ukrainian ships from departing with grain that is vital for food supplies around the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.
  • Russian vehicles litter countryside: A CNN team traveled to the eastern Ukrainian town of Bilohorivka, where Russia is believed to have suffered one of its biggest single defeats of the war. There, the charred remains of Russian armored vehicles littered a field just a few hundred meters from the front line. They found destroyed Russian tanks separated from their turrets, armored personnel carriers, heavy machine guns with barrels twisted into spirals ⁠-- and the charred body parts of Russian soldiers.

Here's a look at the latest situation on the ground:

8:47 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Donetsk officials say there are attacks "day and night," but a new Russian advance failed

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

Ukrainian officials in the Donetsk region said the whole front line is being "shelled day and night" by Russian forces.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of Donetsk region military administration, said that settlements — namely Bakhmut, Kostiantynivka and Soledar — more than 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) from the front line were also being attacked with air strikes.

CNN geolocated a large fire Tuesday at an industrial plant near Soledar, which belongs to a German company that makes building materials.

The Russian defense ministry said Wednesday that warehouses of missile, artillery weapons and ammunition had been attacked in Soledar and Bakhmut.

Kyrylenko confirmed that the Russians had tried to break through Ukrainian lines northeast of the city of Sloviansk.

"This was the large-scale offensive in Donbas region, which started from the north of the region, from the Dolyna settlement," he said. The village is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Sloviansk. 

"Having lost a lot of troops and equipment, the enemy changed direction and moved towards Lyman," Kyrylenko said. "We are ready for their attacks; they are clear to us," he said.

On a different front close to the city of Donetsk, Kyrylenko said that "the enemy outnumbers [us] with its equipment and troops but we have been eliminating them."

Russian forces also focused around the town of Avdiivka, where "there were attempts at a breakthrough," he said.

8:04 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Russia expels 34 French diplomats and 27 Spanish diplomats in retaliatory move

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London 

Russia has declared 34 French diplomats “persona non grata” in the country in response to a decision by France to expel 41 Russian diplomats in April, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday. 

French Ambassador to Moscow Pierre Levy was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, and "strong protest was expressed in connection with the provocative and unjustified decision" of French authorities to declare 41 Russian diplomats in France “persona non grata,” the ministry said. 

"It was emphasized that this act inflicts serious damage to Russian-French relations and constructive bilateral cooperation," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. 

"As a response, 34 French diplomats have been declared 'persona non grata'," the ministry added. "They were ordered to leave the territory of Russia within two weeks from the date of delivery of the relevant note to the Ambassador."

France issued a statement and said it "strongly condemns" this move.

“The work of these diplomats and the staff of our embassy in Russia, whose courage and great professionalism France salutes, is fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations. The decision of the Russian authorities has no legitimate basis. We can only condemn it.”

In a similar fashion, Russia also expelled 27 Spanish diplomats in Russia in response to a decision by Spain to expel 27 Russian diplomats from the country in April, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

The Russian foreign ministry has been expelling employees of many embassies in similar retaliatory moves. Some of the most recent countries that received a similar response from Moscow include Finland, Germany, Bulgaria, Poland, Denmark and Norway among others.

8:15 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

The first Russian soldier to be tried for war crimes in Ukraine conflict is back in court

From CNN's Saskya Vandoorne in Kyiv

Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 18.
Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 18. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

A long line of journalists has formed outside a Kyiv courthouse, despite the morning drizzle, to hear from Vadim Shishimarin, the first Russian soldier to be tried for war crimes since the war began.

Shishimarin is expected to take the stand for the first time after a preliminary hearing that was held last Friday.

His lawyer told CNN that Shishimarin, who is accused of shooting an unarmed civilian in the Sumy region four days after the war began, will be entering a plea.

It is the first war crimes trial held since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The prosecutor expects there to be many more.

So far, more than 12,000 war crimes have been recorded by Ukrainian authorities.

9:27 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

There's a car shortage in Russia — so the defunct Soviet-era Moskvich brand is coming back

From CNN's Peter Valdes-Dapena

After Renault announced its departure this week from the Russian auto market amid the country's war with Ukraine, Moscow's mayor announced its factory will be used to restart the defunct Soviet-era Moskvich car brand.

Little known outside the former Soviet Union and its satellite countries, Moskvich was founded around 1930 and operated until 1991.

As with many car brands from Communist bloc countries, Moskvich struggled with quality problems.

The Muskovich 408 of the 1960s, which had a 50-horsepower engine, was even cited by Soviet officials for numerous defects, according to the book "Cars for Comrades" by Lewis Siegelbaum.

The author describes it, simply, as a "terrible car."

Read the full story here:

7:06 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Russia says it hit some of Ukraine's new US howitzers

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

The Russian Defense Ministry says that "rocket troops and artillery" hit a Ukrainian battery of recently arrived US howitzers.

At its daily briefing Wednesday, the ministry said that its forces hit "a Ukrainian battery of 155-millimeter M777 howitzers made in the United States in the area of the village of Podgorne."

The ministry released video that showed a detonation close to what appears to be one of the howitzers, but the 10-second clip did not confirm that the M777 had been damaged or destroyed.

Some background: Last week, a senior US defense official said the US has delivered "more than 85" of the 90 howitzers, long-range weapons, that were pledged to Ukraine.

The official also said that “more than 310” Ukrainian soldiers have completed training on the howitzers.

On Friday, a senior US defense official added that the "vast majority" of the 89 M777 howitzer artillery systems the US has given to Ukraine are "in the fight" and are in a "forward-deployed setting."

9:31 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Ukrainians who surrendered at Azovstal should face trial, says DPR leader

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

Buses carrying members of Ukrainian forces who have surrendered from the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, Ukraine, drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military on May 17.
Buses carrying members of Ukrainian forces who have surrendered from the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, Ukraine, drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military on May 17. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The fate of Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol should be decided in court, according to Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).

As for war criminals and those who are nationalists, if they laid down their arms their fate should be decided by the court," said Pushilin, reports Russian state news agency TASS.

"Regardless of the emotions of some [people], I heard various opinions. If an adversary laid down their arms, their fate is decided by a court," he added. "If this is a Nazi criminal, then by a court martial."

Most of the soldiers at Azovstal who surrendered are being held in DPR territory at Orlenivka.

On Tuesday, Russian investigators announced they would interrogate those described as "the surrendered militants" who were evacuated from the Azovstal plant.

6:38 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

It's a struggle to get vital food supplies out of Ukraine

From CNN's Kylie Atwood, Alex Marquardt and Jennifer Hansler

The Biden administration is working closely with European allies to try to develop routes to get Ukrainian wheat and corn out of the country after Russia blocked Ukrainian ships from departing with grain that is vital for food supplies around the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

There is no silver bullet to solve the complicated challenge, and officials are considering a wide array of options to get the food exports safely out by rail, sea and air, two US diplomats and four European diplomats told CNN.

Possible scenarios are being studied and devised whether Russia consents or not.

This is far from a done deal. There are so many moving pieces, so many things could go wrong with these discussions," another official familiar with the discussions said.

Read the full story here:

6:17 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

The world's largest aircraft owner lost more than 100 planes to Russia due to sanctions

From CNN's Chris Isidore

AerCap Holdings, the aircraft leasing giant that is the world's largest owner of jets, lost 113 planes when Russia seized them in response to sanctions triggered by the war in Ukraine.

The seizures of the planes and 11 jet engines by Russian authorities caused AerCap to take a $2.7 billion pre-tax charge during the quarter, causing the company to report a net loss of $2 billion rather than the $500 million profit it would have made without the hit.

But company executives said the quarter was actually a good one and they see better times ahead as global demand for flying continues to recover from the Covid pandemic.

Read the full story here: